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Bridgeport public hearing questions whether luxury housing deserves a tax break

Entering Bridgeport off of Connecticut Route 8
Ryan Caron King
Entering Bridgeport off Connecticut Route 8

High-end market-rate apartments could soon be coming to Bridgeport’s harbor as part of another phase of the area’s redevelopment. But first, developers Bridgeport Landing Development want a tax break from the city.

The apartments at Steelpointe Harbor would help create a “new urban waterfront neighborhood” in the city’s East End, an area that’s been home to alarge population of Black and Latino residents over the years. Yet, it wouldn’t include any affordable housing units on-site. Instead, the developers would have to support affordable housing in other areas of the city, amounting to 10% of their total market-rate apartments. So if 400 apartments are planned at the waterfront, Bridgeport Landing Development would have to help support 40 affordable housing units across the city.

The suggested 10-year tax agreementwould potentially save the company millions while it brings 400 apartments to fruition – a project estimated to cost $100 million. The area is home to Bass Pro Shops and several food establishments.

“The East End will benefit because of their property values,” said Charles Scott, a local real estate broker and business owner. “This is adding equity and wealth into the pockets of the people that live there. Steelpointe will create jobs.”

Redevelopment of the area has been in the works for decades. Many at Monday night’s City Council meeting said the Christoph family, father-and-son duo Robert W. Christoph and Robert W. Christoph, JR., has been involved in the community just as long.

“They have been steadfast,” said Deborah Sims, an East End activist. “We have a lot of people that come to the East End and promise stuff, but Steelpoint really helps us with our development. They are not your typical developers, they are caring and compassionate. They care about people and care about the community.”

But while many supported the agreement, others questioned the details.

“The issue at hand to me is not about supporting development, it is about what we want our city to look like and who our city is for,” said Gemeem Davis, vice president of local nonprofit Bridgeport Generation Now. “Bridgeport is a majority Black and brown city, and the people who live here deserve to live everywhere. We do not deserve to be segregated out of an area because we don’t have the current funds.”

Davis said there are concerns that these luxury apartments will be out of reach for the majority of people in Bridgeport – a city where Black and Latino residents have lower median incomes than their white counterparts, according to a recent housing assessment by the Regional Planning Association.

“The lack of guaranteed affordable housing units at Steelpointe is a segregationist policy and one that will ensure that Steelpointe is and will forever be physically, economically and racially segregated,” said Callie Heilmann, also with Bridgeport Generation Now.

Heilmann said there’s no question that development is needed in Bridgeport, and Steelpointe could be a great project. But she said the agreement needs tweaks to make it more equitable. Heilmann and Davis suggested requiring developers to add at least 20% of affordable housing on-site.

The City Council will revisit the issue Dec. 29 at a joint meeting with its economic and contracts committee.

Camila Vallejo is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. She is a bilingual reporter based out of Fairfield County and welcomes all story ideas at cvallejo@ctpublic.org.

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